How To Be Happier In A Relationship? Play By Your Own Rules
February 13, 2013

How To Be Happy In A Relationship? Play By Your Own Rules

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Yet again a new study has emerged which reaffirms something most of us have known all along: You don´t have to be close with your partner to have a good relationship, you just need to be happy and play by your own rules.

Today´s penchant for over-sharing on the Internet through social websites likes Facebook and Instagram could cause some couples to feel as if they aren´t close enough to their significant other or as if they have a less “perfect” relationship because they don´t have constant, physical contact with their partner.

According to David M. Frost, Assistant Professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University´s Mailman School of Public Health and lead author of this study, some people aren´t cuddle bugs by nature, and that´s ok.

“Our study found that people who yearn for a more intimate partnership and people who crave more distance are equally at risk for having a problematic relationship,” says Frost. “If you want to experience your relationship as healthy and rewarding, it´s important that you find a way to attain your idealized level of closeness with your partner.”

It´s a notion that seems almost intuitive: A couple only needs to take care of one another by each others´ standards rather than trying to adjust themselves to an external relationship standard. If two people in a romantic partnership value their private space, then maybe spooning at every available opportunity won´t make either of them happy regardless of what Cosmopolitan says. And conversely, if two people in a relationship can´t get enough of one another's touch, then spending an unnecessary week apart might place an undue strain on the relationship.

Bringing cold hard scientific facts to the aid of common sense, Frost asked 732 men and women from Canada and the US to complete three annual online surveys. These participants answered questions about their previous break-ups, commitment, depression and satisfaction in relationships. They were also asked to describe how close they considered to be “too close” in a relationship.

According to the study, some 57 percent of respondents claimed they felt too distant from their partner, while 37 percent said they felt an ideal level of closeness, and 5 percent said they felt too close to their lover.

As expected, those who reported they were outside of their ideal closeness level (either too close or too far separated) were more likely to report symptoms of depression. In fact, Frost found the level of closeness itself appears to have had no direct influence on the individuals´ depressive symptoms. Rather, it was the discrepancy between the reported level of closeness and the person´s ideal, desired level of closeness that correlated with depression and feelings of dissatisfaction with the relationship.

In general, those participants who reported being in a relationship that met their ideal level of closeness also tended to have an increasingly strong relationship and improved mental health over the two-year study period. By contrast, those who found themselves in relationships that didn´t meet their expectations were increasingly unhappy and frequently broke up with their partners.

Frost believes this study could help to develop new approaches in the field of psychotherapy that are individually tailored for each individual and each relationship. If a person does not need to feel close to their partner, for example, a psychotherapist could look at this study and avoid exercises that are designed to bring struggling couples closer together.

In other words, every relationship is different, and in order to have a happy one, you should avoid trying to live according to someone else´s ideals.

“It´s best not to make too many assumptions about what constitutes a healthy relationship,” Frost concludes. “Rather, we need to hear from people about how close they are in their relationships and how that compares to how close they´d ideally like to be.”

It all just makes sense, really.